Thursday, May 24, 2018

Odd Man Out (1947)

Director: Carol Reed


It would be the first film honored by the newly formed British Film Academy for best feature from its native country and would leave a lasting impact on British cinema and filmmakers for years to come. The picture is a heist, a drama, and a character study based around a sore political topic in the United Kingdom both before and after World War II. Starring one of the UK’s brightest stars coming out of the war, James Mason, its cast featured the likes of Robert Newton and a slew of cinematic newcomers, many who would become popular names in British cinema in the coming years.

Odd Man Out is a British noir about an Irish nationalist who is wounded during a heist and must navigate the darkened streets encountering various people while attempting to evade the police. Fugitive Johnny McQueen (James Mason) finds himself shot and alone after a bank heist planned to help fund his controversial Irish nationalist efforts. While his love, Kathleen Sullivan (Kathleen Ryan), avoids the police inspector (Dennis O’Dea) and attempts to find her man, the wounded and semi-conscious Johnny must elude not only the police, the various people that look to cash in on reward for his capture. After being tended to by reluctantly helpful bystanders, roaming through abandoned areas of town, and stumbling into a crowded bar, Johnny is taken by an eccentric painter (Robert Newton) who is inspired by his plight. Kathleen is able to find Johnny and arranges a way for his escape, but Johnny is too weak to outpace the police that trail them. In her final act of devotion she decides to die with the man she loves by inducing police gunfire, claiming both of their lives.

The film’s plot can be observed as meandering, modestly about Johnny fading quickly from his wound while roaming the dark evening streets of the Irish town, meeting people who exit just a quickly as they meet. However, the true assessment of the film is found in the study of the characters he encounters and how they view Johnny’s life and value. Johnny spends most of the picture hurt and barely conscious, adding little to his own foil, as we feast on the multitude of side characters that he encounters along his staggering way as they discover who he is. For the most part the various Irish characters are in favor of what Johnny is fighting for, but due to his fugitive status they either want nothing to do with him out of fear of trouble, or want to use him for the reward that is placed on his head.

Coming out of World War II where director Carol Reed served in the British Army’s film unit, Reed would begin the most successful period of his career beginning with Odd Man Out. Reed’s direction in this noir brought tangibility to the feature. Shot on location in Belfast with a supporting cast consisting of largely of members of Dublin’s Abbey Theater, most of the picture feels authentic in nature. Its authenticity was so strong that believed the pub in the picture would pay homage to locations that merely inspired sets built for the picture. Reed’s use of camera and shadows brings gritty drama to the film based around the sore subject of Irish nationalism, an issue the nation was still battling within the country since before WWII when northern Ireland was annexed into the United Kingdom, effectively splitting the Irish nation.

Star James Mason loved working on the picture, considering it his finest performance and his personal favorite of all Carol Reed’s pictures. At this time Mason was nearing a peak of fame in British cinema before he took his skills across the ocean to America and becoming an international star.

Newton and Mason pictured in a scene on the left
Apart from notable performances by the ever interesting Robert Newton, who plays an eccentric painter obsessed with painting Johnny, most of the supporting cast consisted of cinematic unknowns barrowed from the Abbey Theater of Dublin, Ireland. Among these newcomers was the leading love interest in Kathleen Ryan, as well as Joseph Tomelty who appears briefly as a taxi driver. Ryan would become one of Ireland’s most popular beauties while Tomelty would go on to have a long and successful career on both the big and small screens while remaining busy on London stages.

Odd Man Out would release to great acclaim and strong box office numbers. Aside from being the eighth highest grossly British feature for 1947, the film was named Best British Picture by the newly formed British Film Academy, later to be known as BAFTA, the British equivalent to the Academy Awards.  Aside from the impact the film had on its director and star, future generations would continue to sing the film’s praise. Filmmaker Roman Polanski most notably would consider Odd Man Out his favorite film.

Today the feature remains as one of the highest heralded films of British cinema and one of James Mason’s greatest performances. The paramount result of the picture was the success of Carol Reed who would turn the accomplishment into a new contract with Alexander Korda’s London Film Productions, resulting in his future features Fallen Idol (1948) and The Third Man (1949) which would live on as hist masterpiece.

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